15 October 2016


by John M. Floyd

An-tho-pol-o-gy: The study of various aspects of writing stories for books that include the work of several different authors.

Okay, I made that up. There's no such word. But maybe there should be.

I like to tell my students that there are two primary markets for the short stories they write: magazines and anthologies. Personally, I tend to explore magazine markets first, because some anthologies are receptive to reprints, and I like to get double duty out of my creations--but anthos can be profitable also, in both payment and exposure. And recently I've found myself sending a fair number of my stories, original and reprints, to anthologies. (There are actually four markets out there for short stories: (1) mags, (2) anthos, (3) self-publishing, and (4) collections of your own stories. I've not yet self-pubbed anything, but I have had five collections published, plus a sixth that was released this past week.)

Besides the fact that there are anthos that take reprints and those that don't, there's another distinction that should be made. (1) Some anthologies send out "calls for submission," where writers can submit stories for consideration in much the same way they would to a magazine market, and (2) some anthologies hand-pick and invite certain authors to contribute stories. A few anthos do a little of both: they invite a few specific authors and they also put out a call for unsolicited work.

As a writer, I've recently placed stories in anthologies that I "auditioned" for after being told they were seeking submissions (examples: the Blood on the Bayou Bouchercon antho, We've Been Trumped by Darkhouse Books, etc.) and I have other stories uncoming in books that I was asked to contribute to (examples: a Private Eye anthology by Down & Out Books and a horror antho by a Bram Stoker-winning editor I've worked with before). And sometimes even that can be a combination of processes. I submitted an unsolicited story to editor Tom Franklin for Mississippi Noir (Akashic Books) that didn't fit his guidelines (it was a reprint, which was stupid of me), so he asked me to send him an original story instead, which he accepted and included in the book. Writing and publishing, as I've said before, is a strange business.

NOTE 1: One advantage of anthologies that issue "calls for submission" is that there's always a deadline. The stories have to be sent in by such-and-such a date because the antho needs to be published by such-and-such a date. And that sometimes-narrow window of time automatically cuts out part of the competition, and ups the odds for acceptance/inclusion. Some writers won't even be aware that there is a call for submission until it's too late to send a story in, and even those who do see it and are interested might not have a story available (or enough time to be able to produce one) that fits the guidelines.

NOTE 2: I'm not talking here about annual "best-of" anthologies like Otto Penzler's Best American Mystery Stories. When your already-published story winds up being selected for and reprinted in one of those, that's great, but that's also pretty much out of your control. I'm talking more about anthologies that either request stories from certain writers or choose from the unsolicited submissions of others.

The best situation, obviously, is for the editor to contact you and ask you to submit a story. It's flattering, it involves no marketing effort, and when it happens you can be fairly certain that your "solicited" story will be included. But the funny thing is, even though I'm always honored to be asked to contribute to an anthology (who wouldn't be?), I'm also one of those odd folks who find it harder to conform to someone else's idea for a story than to dream up an idea of my own. So when the theme/mood/genre of an anthology is very (sometimes too) specific, I often find it more difficult to write a story that I'm satisfied with. Don't get me wrong: I do it. And I work on it until I am satisfied. But I still think it's easier to come up with my own ideas, make up stories from those ideas, then search for matching markets than to create stories with the pre-set themes and ideas of others.

What are some of your experiences and opinions on all this? Do you actively seek publication in anthologies? If so, how do you find them? Have you always been able to squeeze through the submission window in terms of time and story-theme? Are you often asked by an editor to contribute to an antho? Have you ever turned down such a request? Do you find it easy to write a story-on-demand? Have your published stories ever been selected for some of the "best-of's"?

On the subject of Best American Mystery Stories, let me again congratulate my SleuthSayers colleagues Rob Lopresti and Art Taylor on making the newly-released 2016 edition of B.A.M.S.--Good work, guys! (And I noticed that R.T. Lawton, David Edgerley Gates, and I managed to make the "close-but-no-cigar" list in the back of the book, this time. It's not the Top 20 of the year, but it's the Top 50; when I saw my story in the list, my head swelled until I had to adjust the strap on my baseball cap.)

Since I seem to be wallowing in self-congratulatory mode, I have another announcement: my latest collection of short mystery fiction was released on October 10, with a launch at Lemuria Books here in Jackson, Mississippi. It's hardcover, thirty stories, 352 pages, 90,000 words, and titled (appropriately) Dreamland.

And yes, a few of the included stories previously appeared in . . . anthologies.

I'm not an anthopologist for nothing.


  1. Hey John,

    Congratulations on Dreamland! And making the honorable mention list for BAMS. Don't wear that strap too tight. And congratulations to Rob and Art, R.T. and David!

  2. Thanks for the terrific and informative post here--and the shout-out too! Congrats on all your own recent success, and congrats to all who earned attention in the latest BAMS.

  3. Congratulations and good luck with Dreamland.
    Your market advice is always good and useful!

  4. Thanks, Paul, Art, and Janice. Looking forward to reading your story in BAMS, Art!

    Years ago I hardly ever submitted to (or thought much about) anthologies. But they truly are a good market for stories. One writer friend said, of them. "They're my chance to get my story into a real book with respectable authors, some of whom might even be well known." I encourage my students to divide their submissions between magazines (regularly) and anthologies (occasionally).

  5. Sorry about the period/comma error in my previous comment. I was typing too fast. (Don't do that in your submissions . . .)

  6. Excellent information. Look forward to seeing you again when you come to Louisiana on your signing junket. I'd like to add a word about rejection. It comes with the territory. Even when a writer is asked to contribute a story to a collection it can happen.

  7. Good subject and post, John. I've been in five anthologies recently, and for the first time, was 'invited' to submit to a publisher's anthology where only those invited are featured. It did indeed feel like an honour.

    I haven't made a lot of money this way, but I would say the main advantage of anthologies for me would be the possibility of reaching a new market for my novels. I have had readers find my books after reading one of my short stories. Bliss!

  8. Whoops - meant to add - it goes both ways. One of the delights is being in an anthology with new people, and discovering them for myself! Sort of like how I discovered you, John, in the Dell magazines.

  9. Congratulations, John!
    I only got close once to being in an anthology, which Michael Bracken, God bless him, was putting together. But then it didn't make. (At least Linda Landrigan took the story!)
    Maybe some day...
    And, in BSP, my "A Time to Mourn", made the "Other Distinguished Mystery Stories of 2011" list in the back of The Best American Mystery Stories 2012! THAT was a thrill!
    Congratulations to all!

  10. Congratulations on all your recent successes, John, and congratulations also to Art, Rob, and everyone else honored in the 2016 BAMS. I've only recently started sending stories to anthologies, sometimes in response to an invitation (Jewish Noir), more often in response to a call for submissions (Murder under the Oaks). While writing to fit someone else's specifications can be challenging, I've usually enjoyed it--a couple of times, the requirements have helped me give shape to a story idea I've had for a while. My problem is that I usually don't hear about anthologies until after they've been published. Can people offer suggestions about where to find calls for submissions? (I know about My Little Corner.)

  11. My head swells a bit when Eve Fisher confirms my good taste as an editor. Something similar happened with Brian Thornton. A story of his I accepted for an anthology that didn't make (was it the same anthology as the one with Eve's story? I had three anthologies in the pipeline that were cancelled at the same time prior to publication) also sold to AHMM. I'm hoping all the other writers who were in the same sinking boat with Eve and Brian also placed their stories elsewhere. Alas, despite pitching anthology ideas to other publishers I've not yet had one bite.

    Anyhow, to answer some of John's questions:

    I do actively seek anthology publication, and I've placed stories in many anthologies under a variety of editorial solicitation methods. I have a story in the forthcoming private eye anthology John mentions and, as far as I know, it was an invitation-only situation. I have a story forthcoming in a reprint anthology edited by Ed Gorman that I learned about because he posted a note about it on his blog and Sandra Seamans pointed me to the post. And I just had a story accepted for a forthcoming anthology that had an open call for submissions.

    To expand on that just a bit, I've worked with anthology editors under three conditions:

    1. Invitation-only. I've placed several stories this way and I don't think I've ever failed to deliver. (One caveat: Many years ago an anthology editor to whom I had sold two stories liked to see story ideas before receiving submissions. I had a shot at a third anthology but couldn't come up with a idea he liked, perhaps because back then I had to write my stories before I knew what they were about. Now I can sometimes pitch first/write second.)

    2. Quasi-invitation. This is where an editor lets favored writers know about an upcoming anthology without committing to purchasing their submissions. If the editor doesn't get enough acceptable stories, then the anthology has an open call to fill the remaining spots. I've delivered something in almost every case, though my stories didn't always make the final cut.

    3. Open-call. Me and zillion other writers competing for the dozen or so open spots. There's no possible way to write enough stories for all the open-call anthologies and, alas, some are so low paying that they aren't worth the effort to create a new story and only get a submission for me if I have something unsold that might fit the guidelines. I've sold quite a few stories to open-call anthologies, and many of these have served as stepping stones into the quasi-invitiation and invitation-only anthologies.

    There are multiple ways to find open-call anthologies. SandraSeamans.blogspot.com lists many mystery/crime fiction anthologies, DarkMarkets.com does the same for horror anthologies, Ralan.com covers the SF/fantasy markets pretty well, and http://www.erotica-readers.com/ERA/AR/Erotica_Authors_Resources.htm is the place to go for erotica markets. I've also found Facebook groups that do the same for each genre.

    But I don't rely on these websites and Facebook groups exclusively because I can often find anthologies on my own by searching Google (search for: anthology AND "call for submissions") and Twitter (search for: #callforsubmissions) and I can sometimes find open call anthologies before the Sandra and the other compilation sites are aware of them.

    And, of course, there's always the connections we make with other writers, where we pass info back-and-forth or mention one another's names to editors.

  12. Reprint anthologies are different. I've had a couple of stories reprinted where the editors came to me (Best New Erotica 4, a best-of year anthology) and a few where I submitted directly to the editor (the Gorman anthology mentioned earlier).

    I like writing for themed anthologies (especially invitation-only anthologies!) because it gives me focus. I have a hundred-plus stories in progress at any moment and I'm always jumping back and forth. When I have a theme and a deadline, it focuses my attention. (And my wife pointed out the other day that I seem more excited when I'm writing stories under these conditions.)

    Is it easy to write a "story-on-demand"? It's not any easier or any harder than to create one out of thin air. It is, however, more challenging because one must create something worthwhile within set parameters and within a limited time frame.

    One last anecdote: Earlier this year I saw a call for submissions from an open-call anthology. I wrote what I thought was a kiss-ass story that fit the parameters exactly. There was a long lead time and I finished early. EQMM usually has a short turn-around time for rejections and pays better than the anthology, so I sent it there first. The perfect ending to this story would be that EQMM bought it. Alas, I only received a really nice rejection letter. There was still time to submit to the anthology, so I did. They bought it, proving that I did nail the parameters.

  13. As usual, Michael Bracken gives good advice. Another reason he received this year's Edward D. Hoch Memorial Golden Derringer Award for Lifetime Achievement.

  14. About five years ago, I made the decision to concentrate on placing stories in anthologies. Since them, I've been in a few small-press anthologies, and the rejected stories have gone to other markets. Thanks John and everyone else here for the advice and information!

  15. Just getting back home from an out-of-town signing today, and catching up a bit.

    O'Neil -- thanks for the info. Yep, as the old saying goes, rejection is to be expected, not dreaded. Though of course it IS dreaded. I've had my share of 'em.

    Good point, Melodie! Glad you've had such positive responses from your antho stories. It really is good exposure.

    Eve, I remember seeing that listing of your story in the "Distinguished" section of the 2012 BAMS. I made the list that time too, with one of my Strand stories. I think you and I were the only two Fs that year.

    Bonnie, you're right, My Little Corner is a great place to find out about calls for anthologies. Also ralan.com -- it says it's only for fantasy/sf, but AHMM and EQMM are listed there, plus all kind of anthology calls. And, as Michael said, I often find those calls via Google.

    Michael, you do indeed ALWAYS offer good advice, on any writing subject. Thanks for the comments.

    Jeff, good to hear from you. I'm very pleased that you and I have shared space in a few publications over the years--at least in magazines. Keep up the good writing!!

  16. Oh, and it wasn't a "kiss-ass" story. It was a "kick-ass" story. One should better proofread long responses to blog posts...

  17. I'm the world's worst about sending out comments before proofreading them. I'm a little disappointed, though, Michael--your corrected version is more logical but not nearly as funny.

    One more point about anthologies, although I'm sure most of you know this already. Anthologies seldom make a lot of money for the publisher/editor/contributors, so a one-time payment for your story often works better than "royalty" payments based on sales. And sometimes all proceeds go to charity--those projects help the heart more than the wallet, but it's good exposure and done for a good cause.


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